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Unorthodox take on British History
on 12 October 2003
The final volume of the 3-book series is as beautifully packaged and illustrated as the previous volumes and Schama'a narrative is as splendid as ever. Like the T.V. series, this third volume is a little annoying in the fact that Schama is obsessed with the arts to the detriment of the sciences. This is certainly a unique view on British history, such as the over-emphasis on the French Revolution in the first section, and many great characters such as Brunel have little to play in Schama's view of events. Schama seems intent on celebrating more obscure people at the expense of the more mundane. (I.e. No Nelson, Drake, Dickens is less significant a writer than Gaskilll, etc.)The chapters on the British Empire show Schama willing to trot out old cliches, something he intended not to do in his Preface in Volume 1. Here, the reader would be better directed to Niall Ferguson's excellent book where Schama's weaknesses become more apparent. There is plenty to read on the build-up to WW 2 but the actual conflict is almost mentioned in passing. WW1 gets even less attention.
I really enjoyed Volume 1 and felt that the author dealt with Medieval History in a clear, concise and witty manner. Volume 2 is the least interesting as Schama spent too much time dealing with constitutional issues. However, Volume 3 is too eccentric to be considered authoritive and is content to reduce the last 50 years to a few pages.
As a whole, the series is ambitious but Schama is too controversial in the emphasis he gives his different subjects. Norman Davies' book is also an interesting read, but ,equally not authorative, although more detailed. Readers interested in Pre-history will be disappointed by both books.